Monday, May 28, 2012

Mt Hamilton From the Fun Side Century & Sierra Century Metric Flat (Ha) Course (2012)

Memorial Day weekend
May 26, 2012 Century #17 Mt Hamilton Counterclockwise loop, via Calaveras and Mt Hamilton on long (20 miles) but shallow (consistent 4-5% grade) climb from San Jose side, and down Mines Road.  106 miles, 8,600' climbing, with Ward and Cisco Dave

May 27, 2012  Sierra Century Metric Route with Tyler Road portion added.  80 miles, 6,000 climbing, with Ward. 

A few of the bonus mile group were supposed to go up to Mt. Lassen area for some cycling, but plans fell through with forecast of light rain with highs of 50.  Was it really touching 90 degrees at Davis last weekend??  So with a three day weekend I wanted to do special rides the first two days.  Trouble was that most of  our cast-o-bonus-mile-characters were out of town or otherwise occupied.  Ward did his usual masterful job of sending out an email to many with multiple options and there was--dead silence.  No takers.

Weather forecast for the Bay Area wasn't the greatest, Saturday 65 degrees with 10-20 mph winds, with a gradual warming.  So riding near the coast was out as it would even be cooler.  Tinkering of some seminal inland rides seemed like a good idea. 

On Saturday our bike Club was doing an metric out and back along Calaveras Road.   Usually this meant that the bonus mile group tortures itself by riding out with teh Club and then continuing on to and then climbing the shear hell of Sierra Road.  No more DMD training, no need to do it.  So why don't we ride out with the Club, and bonus mile group would bypass Sierra Road and go up the long Western Side of Mt. Hamilton--a long haul of 18.5 miles but never very steep as it was built for horse driven carts to bring up supplies.  Cisco Dave was in, after all on DMD and killer training loop he went up Mt. Hamilton the hard way and then Sierra Road.    

Plan was our trio would start at the base of the road we'd eventually come down, so we wouldn't have to ride 15 suburban ugly miles in late afternoon to get back to our cars from where the Diablo Cyclists were starting.  Then we'd intersect the Club in Sunol--8 miles away from them--12 miles away from us.  Who did the math??--this part of the plan stunk.

Well maybe it would have worked if Cisco Dave, Ward and I started at 8:45 instead of bathroom hunting until 9:15.  Or maybe it would have worked if our club has the large group of riders who were bs'ing at the start and they'd have left late.  But as it turned out they only had a small group so they didn't F around at the start, and no matter how hard Dave, Ward and I rode, we only caught up to the slowest rider in the Club  on Calevaras right before their turn around point.  CA Mike was with them and knowing how hard he works he probably turned himself inside out pulling the group to the turn around point and we never had a chance making up the 4 miles.   
Meet up with Mike at the end of Calaveras.  He's freezing--shit, I'm f'd. (PC)
Bad news was that it was windy and sunny when we started out, but on Calevaras it was now overcast.  When we reached the Club they were under a tree in solid shade--as it really didn't matter as out from under the tree it was just as dark.  CA Mike said he was cold--so I was screwed as I am a cold wuzz and just had on a light vest.  This was more than Cisco Dave had--he was being creative with a Safeway newspaper insert.   And now Dave, Ward and I had a long downhill where we'd start our climb to 4,000' Mt. Hamilton--shit, who knew how cold and windy it would be on the climb.

Actually the downhill wasn't bad and it was actually warm riding through the flatland subdivisions that were blocking the wind.  We passed Sierra Road turn off and I felt great not having to do that shit of a climb.  We weaved in and out of a few more neighborhoods and started the Mt. Hamilton Climb. 

Start of Mt. Hamilton 20 mile gradual climb (PC)
Cisco Dave on Mt Hamilton climb from the ez side (PC)

Ward on the Mt. Hamilton climb from the ez side (PC)

Ward and I bs'ing up the easy side of Mt Hamilton.  On the other side we'd just be cursing away (CD)
Weather was much better than I thought--mild wind, sun peaking through.  No imminent events so pace could be easy so we all stayed together--with just scrambles back if stopping for a photo (me) or looking at snakes (Ward/ Dave.)  Our pace must have been OK--no one passed us and we went by 3-4 unhappy riders and 1 guy with a tri setup on the widest mountain bike handlebars I had ever seen.  We were all just bs'ing and suddenly we were near the top--and just as suddenly the temperature seemed to drop with bank of thick clouds filling the western sky. 

Near the top of Mt Hamilton (WI)

After a group photo we ducked into the patio--protected from the wind.  It was WARM--for about 2 minutes, then a thick bank of clouds would fly over the area and it would get cold for a few minutes--then warm again--repeat--repeat.  Cisco Dave was playing with his supermarket ad--trying to origami it into a thermal jacket.  When I started eating my peanut and butter sandwich he got a forelorn expression and asked 'are you going to eat the whole thing'--he was like a cross between the bum on the Bowery and a goat at the petting zoo--so I did my good deed for the year and shared with a starving cyclist.  When we started out it wasn't so bad until we swung away from the planetarium and turned into the corner with a few from the west and the cold cold wind almost knocked us all on our asses. 
Ward, Dave and I before frostbite/ windburn sets in at the top of Mt. hamilton.

Sign entering the Mt. Hamilton observatory.  They should sell souvenir slippers for cyclists (PC)

In the space of 6 minutes--looking at the stars (PC)

Getting water in the observatory (WI)

Don't know if I'm trying to get a photo of the sky or really just trying to stay warm (WI)

Dave and Ward were freezing on the 5 mile steep descent.  I don't know if I was freezing as I was white knuckled avoiding the center reflectors in cutouts, the silt, the shallow potholes, the crap patch jobs that suddenly appeared on the hairpins.  Nice warm regroup at the San Antonio Bridge--the cows Cisco Dave was hamming it up with last time weren't out so he started hitching when a car passed.

Was it really cold 5 miles ago--bank of fog and Mt Hamilton in the background--Ward and Dave now enjoying the sun(PC) 
We were lucky--thick clouds over Mt. Hamilton to the West and thick clouds to the far east by Patterson.  But it stayed sunny over us for the rest of the day.  Cisco Dave did his usually great job of leading the paceline, with Ward and I giving him short breaks.  We did notice that most cars were cool, as we rode single file and not all over the road, but some deliverance pickup drivers were dicks as they shaved past us on an open road. 

Junction Cafe was uncrowded--one table filled with Harley riders--a table far away was filled with more brightly clad road cyclists.  We hung out outside witha guy on a mountain bike who repeatedly told us that he started out late--and once rode over the Sonora Pass to Death Valley in 8 days.   Then it was up the two  immediate hills out of the Junction and the rest of the 28 miles down back to Livermore.  Our trio pacelined well through the swirling wind-sometimes getting hit by a stiff crosswind and then suddenly having a bonus tailwind.
The Junction Cafe, Mines Road (PC)

Guy who rode to Death Valley via Sonora Pass, offers Dave a supply of peanut butter if Dave signs up for his next Death Valley tour.  (PC)

Scene going down Mines Road (PC)

We'll, our trio may have failed the earlier math test when trying to joining up to our Club, but the route was a great success.  Let's see--what would we rather do.  The usual: 28 mile Mines Road uphill, the uphill rollers to the base of Mt Hamilton, the 5 miles of torture climbing Mt. Hamilton, and the 3 1/2 mile torture climb of Sierra Road.  OR!   18 mile gentle Mt. Hamilton climb.  End-o-story.  (We had thought of adding on Del Valle if we still wanted 12 climbing miles--but it was so cool outside I was glad the ride ended when it did.)

Good ride-we had a great group and great route but weather was too FN cold--I wouldn't get out of the hot shower when I got home.

Next day planned to go to my cycling ancestral homeland solo--but Ward joined me literally at the last minute.   I'll bore people with more historic details in a few weeks when the GREAT Sierra Century returns to its Plymouth route after a 7 year absence--but after the Sierra Century was kicked out of El Dorado County I led my club each year on a self supported century of the highland 120 mile route including the two seminal pine tree covered climbs--Slug Gulch and El Dorado National Forest.    The portion we left out to keep it at 100 miles was the lowland portion among the Oak trees around Ione.    So while I know the hilly portion well I hadn't ridden the flatter portion since 2005, so it seemed like a good idea to reconnaissance for the upcoming century ride and after all the climb yesterday a flat course would be great.

As I tell anyone that will listen the greatest riding is in the Gold Country.  Few traffic controls, little traffic, roads as smooth as a babies butt, interesting little towns.    Well, we found out that Ward and I had a few misconceptions about this ride.  First lowlands didn't mean a flat ride, it often meant steep roller after steep roller.  And while the high country portion is paved well, there are many sections--especially the initial 5 mile fast downhill from Plymouth towards Ione, which are as well paved as Sonoma's finest roads (the shits.)

Anyway Ward and I started out on a little warmer day than the one before, but sun was solidly out and no wind.  We were armed with my 2003 Sierra Century route sheet which proudly hangs in my office--I thought it would be the hardest ride I'd ever do, and it was the scariest  I had ever been training for a ride.

Scenes and sample roller en route from Plymouth to Ione (PC & WI)
 I did remember freezing on the initial downhill in @1999, 2000 and 2002 when I did the metric century and 2003, 2004 and 2005 when I did the Double metric course, but I didn't remember the road surface being so crappy.  The smoothest part was towards the centerline, which was doable today with no traffic on the road--but then I suddenly remembered that on Century day tons of car traffic going the other way--the late arrives for the start of the Century.  (See Ward's recap of this route at the end of this blog)
Sore from the day before Ward and I just riding an ez temp for 10-15 miles.  Rollers here are more of the baby variety--momentum carries you over which Ward likes.  Saw some cyclists going the other way on an Erma's Diner ride.   Beautiful outside--fields of wild flowers in between stands of oaks.  No cars on a smoothly paved back road.  We were quickly in Ione at mile 20--the first rest stop on the century.  We rode out to the secret bathrooms in Ione, which we'll use on Sierra Century day skipping crowded rest stop 1.

(above) Ward enters Ione and heads towards secret bathrooms (below) Castle seen from Ione--tuns out to be now closed Preston Youth Correctional Facility.  This would be the GREATEST clubhouse ever if I could get 20 cyclists from club to buy this place.  (PC & WI)

Now spotted the huge Gothic structure on a hill--did I remember correctly that it was a woman's prision?  (Ward  couldn't wait and he 'I-Phoned' that it was now closed Preston Youth Correctional Facility.)  Now on another well paved, little traffic back road to Sutter Creek, filled with a series of momentum halting rollers--the kind that I usually like, but today my knees were protesting.  The ten miles to Sutter Creek seemed longer that than the first 20 miles, and we stopped at the secret bathrooms there--again a rehearsal for the Sierra Century.

On top of one roller on Sutter-Ione road (PC)
In Sutter Creek knee warmers and warmers permanently came off.  Picturesque movie set western town was crowded with holiday travelers.  But in a few minutes we were on the gentle uphill toward Volcano--fair but not paved as well as I like to recall, very occasional car passing, tree lined--brook running alongside.  Most of the 12 mile climb could be done very fast if you didn't ride Mt. Hamilton the day before--today Ward and I were very very lazy.

I'm enjoying one of the great 12 mile uphills on Volcano Road (WI)
Short video of a great ride up shaded, tree lined Volcano Road, with a creek running off to the side, and then entering the small jewel of Volcano.  One of the great uphills--very gradual 12 miles (until the end) and little traffic.  Road is a little rough so going down to Sutter Creek better to use Shake Ridge Road.  (PC & WI)
 Tiny Volcano with a Greek Theatre as awesome as always--nice and quiet once the Harley's left.  Just sitting on the porch of the general store eating PBJ sandwiches while watching the world go by.   We'd now have a 3 mile climb--Ram's Horn's Grade--which back in 2000 I thought would be the toughest I'd ever do (what are those crazy 100 milers talking about --a tougher climb called Slug Gulch later on) and a few more miles of annoying uphill rollers.  Suddenly engulfed in solid pine forest, great smell--except when asshole diesel pickup truck passed us and we got a faceful of black exhaust.    We were again real real lazy on the climb.

Sign for the bathrooms and mines and other area attractions in front of the Greek Theatre in Volcano (PC)
 At mile 49 one of the great 11 miles of road anywhere--the Fiddletown expressway.  When I hated and was afraid of downhills I loved this one--as downhill sections are punctuated by fast uphill rollers.  Ward and I were rejuvenated here and we took turns leading out and slamming into the next roller. 

Ward on Shake Ridge Road, @3,000', the earlier Oak trees have now given way to dense stands of  Pine trees. (PC)
Mile 60 Fiddletown rest stop, in the middle of an old Chinese mining town that is now desolate.  On the official metric route it is 6 miles, fairly flat, back to the start.  Ward suggested we go back a little longer way, another part of the 100 mile course we hadn't done on the self supported Sierra Century rides.  We'd do Tyler Road that led into a fairly flat shewed up road through a forest--at least fairly flat is what we remembered.  Glad Ward suggested this as he might have killed me if it had been my idea.

(above) Ward arrives in Fiddletown (below) Hurry up and get your Gold Country real estate.

It must be senility--Tyler Road had steeper rollers than anything that came before.  Oh yeah, I recalled dropping that ass in 2003 who made fun of my pie plate on the back--but soon we'd be in the pancake flat forest--but it wasn't pancake flat but filled with baby rollers.  At least our memory wasn't totally gone, we did correctly remember the road being chewed up.

Upon return, one of many winerys close to Plymouth (PC)
 We knew where we were when we came out on the major road near Mt. Aukum.  Main road did have lots of traffic so we took a detour--the Steiner Loop (not part of the Century route) and then the winery area on Shenandoah School Road.  Hell, if anyone came to visit and wanted to go to wineries I'd take them here instead of Napa--less crowded and just as picturesque.  Two miles back on main road with traffic and no shoulder and Ward has enough in him to pick up the speed to get us the hell out of there.

Great ride--great route--but to hard a course for a 2nd day to fully enjoy it.  

White Paper on the Sierra Century Route--emphasis on the lowland portion--by Ward Industry Travel Services (We did Leg 1-4.1 today)
Musings on the first bit of the Sierra Century.
Pumpkincycle Version-Section 1-Good Place to Attack
Section 2-Good Place to Attack
Section 3-Good Place to Attack, etc etc...
Ward Industries Version--See Below

Leg 1, Plymouth to Ione.
The first couple of miles outside of Plymouth are downhill on a semi twisty road with poor pavement and lots of potholes. At the start of the ride I expect there to be a lot of bike traffic going downhill with a lot of car traffic heading up towards Plymouth for later starting riders. The pavement tends to be better (smoother) near the centerline. This, in combination with lots of relatively inexperienced riders and significant differences in preferred speeds, could result in dangerous conditions. Be scared and watch out for riders going left of center to pass and for riders making unexpected swerves to avoid problem pavement.

After the road straightens there are a couple of rollers before the turn onto Hwy 16.

On Irish Hill Road, there are also some attention getting rollers with bad pavement.

Once again, crowded conditions and large variations in speed could cause problems.  Beware of folks who come to an almost stop on the way up the rollers.

Skipping the Ione Rest Stop (get some food at the start) and using the public toilet/water in “downtown” Ione is a great way to save 20, or more, minutes of messing about.

Leg 2, Ione to Sutter Creek to Volcano

The first stretch out of Ione is a gradual uphill on Hwy 124. This is not a difficult climb, but the shoulder is very bumpy so once again the temptation will be to ride on the traffic side of the fog line. Passing slower riders on this section could be problematic (w/o getting run over).

Sutter Ione Road, I forgot how much climbing was on this stretch. Only steep for a few short stretches but pretty unrelenting. Best to ride this at a steadyish pace and go steady on the false flats.

Sutter Creek - Volcano Road. Gradual uphill along Sutter Creek. The gradient kicks around 8 miles after leaving Sutter Creek (watch for the “Road Narrows” sign followed by “Fabio” painted across the road). After a short descent there is another, more significant, kick followed by a short descent into Volcano (cool little town).

Leg 3, Volcano to Fiddletown

The climb up Rams Horn is the hardest climb on the ride so far but the grade is pretty steady so find a comfortable pace. The main part of the climb is approximately 2 miles long and ends where there is a picnic area on the right side and Shake Ridge Road Tee’s in from the left (this is Daffodil Hill). Don’t be too happy because there is another kick just around the corner. Afterwards, it’s a gradual uphill to the Fiddletown Road turnoff (there used to be a water only stop up here someplace but I’d only stop if I was
very low on water).

The descending starts after turning onto Fiddletown road. Some of the corners are sharper than you might expect so watch your speed near the top of the hill. There are also a couple of oh’ shit rollers on the way down.

The rest stop is at the bottom of the hill.

Leg 4, Fiddletown to Fairplay (Tyler Road)
The stretch to Mt Aukum Road has more climbing in it than I remembered. A few steepish bits but more memorable because whenever you turn a corner it looks like the road goes up (that may be my tired legs talking). Lots of bad road surface back here along with narrow roads require care when passing other riders and especially if there is oncoming traffic (we saw 2 or 3 cars back there).

Leg 4.1, Fairplay to Omo Ranch Road / Indian Diggings School (top of Slug Gulch)

There used to be a water stop at the park by the turn onto Perry Creek Road. If you are low, fill up here since the next couple of miles will be strenuous. It might be time to eat a gel for some quick energy.

After leaving (or passing) the water stop, Perry Creek Road has some steep rollers.

When I first rode this section I thought to myself, “This slug gulch business is pretty easy”. Well after the steep rollers on Perry Creek, you turn left and find out what steep really is. Slug Gulch is kind of stair steppy (steep, then flattens, repeat). To me, the real climbing is over and the hammer can go down after the big S turn in the pine trees (after about 3 miles of climbing). Jay says that it gets easier as it goes up, but since fatigue sets in I’m not sure how much that helps (mentally maybe more than physically?).

If you’re doing the century, this is the end of the serious climbing (my best recollection) .

Leg 5

If you’re doing the 200k, you’ll do a mostly gradual climb through the pines, followed by a fast descent which takes you back to the top of the Fiddletown Freeway where you repeat the descent to the Fiddletown (tennis courts) rest stop.

Leg 6

Repeat the exit from Fiddletown but take the first left onto Ostrom Road. There are 3 or 4 steep little pitches on the way to Mt Aukum Road that will give your legs a few last chances to complain.

Depending on how they route this, there are a couple of ways to get off the main road for parts of this leg.

If you’re totally trashed, then follow the Metric route out of Fiddletown for a much flatter return to Plymouth

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